Library, Tigers, MOT event celebrates Josh Gibson

Michael Hodges
The Detroit News
A page from the Willie Horton scrapbook is part of the Ernie Harwell collection of sports memorabilia available at the Detroit Public Library.

Baseball and opera will link arms Wednesday at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch in an event celebrating the upcoming production of “The Summer King” by the Michigan Opera Theatre, which details the meteoric rise and fall of Negro Leagues great Josh Gibson.

It’s the first public event in “Take Me Out to the Opera,” an MOT initiative in collaboration with the Detroit Tigers to shine a light on the historical role that sports and the arts played in promoting racial equity and inclusion.

“The project frames these two institutions — the world of arts and world of sports — side by side as places where integration happens early,” said Andrea Scobie, MOT manager of education and community programs.

She added that while segregation kept Gibson, a power hitter who dominated the Negro Leagues, from making it to the majors, “he certainly paved the way for Jackie Robinson.”

“The Summer King” will have its Detroit premiere May 12.

At Wednesday’s event, artifacts from two of the public library’s most-impressive historical archives — the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection and the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts — will be on display starting at 5 p.m. in the Friends Conference Room on the library mezzanine.

At 6:30 p.m., Nicole Joseph and Branden Hood, members of the MOT’s touring company, will sing an aria from “The Summer King.”

The Hackley Collection, said Detroit Public Library curator Romie Minor, is dedicated to the Detroit Public Schools teacher and soprano who performed around the country and mentored rising young black artists.

“One of her students was Marian Anderson,” Minor said. “When Ms. Hackley passed in 1922, the Detroit Musicians Association didn’t want her legacy to be forgotten” and founded the collection some 21 years later.

The Ernie Harwell Collection started with an initial donation by the famed broadcaster of 7,000 photos in 1966, and grew from there. It covers all sports and includes considerable material on the Negro Leagues.

Detroit Tigers Vice President for Marketing Ellen Hill Zeringue said the organization was excited about the collaboration with the library and MOT, as well as the opportunity to shine a spotlight on “The Summer King” and the “narratives of some of Detroit’s most-prominent African-American artists and baseball players.”

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A photo of operatic soprano Leontyne Price from the Detroit Public Library’s E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African-American musical history.

‘Take Me Out to the Opera’

Friends Conference Room

Detroit Public Library Main Branch

Mezzanine Level

5201 Woodward, Detroit

5-7 p.m. Wednesday


(313) 481-1300